Thursday, September 27, 2007

Childhood Sexual Abuse

Postcard created by an alumna of foster care, as part of an ongoing postcard project by Foster Care Alumni of America.

Sexual Abuse in Foster Care
In the general public, physical abuse of children occurs twice as often as sexual abuse.

Within the foster care system, however, foster care youth and alumni report experiencing sexual abuse at a higher than physical abuse.

While there are no significant gender differences regarding physical abuse or neglect in foster care settings, studies have demonstrated that girls are at greater risk for sexual abuse within the foster care system.

Eighty-five women between the ages of 18-25 years old participated in a study supported by the Orphan Foundation of America:

- 65% of participants reported a history of sexual abuse.
- 35% reported experiencing that abuse during their time in foster care.

Not surprisingly, participicants who experienced sexual abuse both at home and in foster care settings demonstrated the highest rate of self-blame, feelings of betrayal and powerless, and stigmatization.

Fearing the Victim
Foster and adoptive parents are concerned about their ability to meet the needs of these young people. They worry about the risk to other children who live in their homes. They fear being subject to allegations themselves.

Girls with a history of sexual abuse are subject to twice as many placement changes as girls without a history of sexual abuse. They are more likely to be housed in group homes and residential placements.

How to Care for Victims of Sexual Abuse
1.) Close supervision: Children often imitate what they have experienced, and live out what they know. If a child's first introduction to touching was sexual touching, that child might inadvertently pass on the abuse to other children.

2.) Effective sexual education: Young people who have been exposed to too much, too soon, often had the physical experience without truly understanding what was going on. What they do know about sex has been horribly distorted.

3.) Modification of inappropriate behaviors: Victims of abuse need to learn how to set healthy boundaries for physcially relating to other people. Often, their response to touch leaps to polar extremes, between fear and fascination.

4.) Therapeutic attention to the child's deeper unmet needs: It is vital to have a thorough understanding of the young person's history, so that their current behaviors are seen in the context of past trauma and experiences.

Ideally, foster parents would be given the information they need in order to prepare their home. A study funded by the Department of Health showed that in order half the cases, the sexual abuse history of children was not shared with their foster caregavers.

Even in cases where this information was shared, the extent, severity and identity of the abuser was often omitted from the case files.

(2007) Breno, Anjey and Galupo, M. Paz. Sexual abuse histories of young women in the U.S. child welfare system: A focus on trauma-related beliefs and resilience, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2007, Vol. 16 Issue 2, p97-113.

(2003) Farmer, Elaine and Pollock, Sue. Managing sexually abused and/or abusing children in substitute care. Child & Family Social Work, May2003, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p101-112.

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